Google Pixel 4 (XL): Thoughts Long After The Noise

Whenever a new Google Pixel device is announced and then launched, reviews flood the internet with the good and the bad rushing to throw up the comparisons to other phones, both Android and iOS alike. We harp on the negatives along with everyone else and then proclaim whether this phone sucks and what Google should and shouldn’t have done all within really a week or two period of using it and then move on to the next. I myself in an attempt to keep up with everyone else in the past have done so also, rushed to get a review at the same time as everyone. This year I just wasn’t feeling it. So this year I skipped the early rush to get my thoughts in, not because it was some strategic plan, but maybe just phone review fatigue haha. This year I just took my time to use the phone and after much time, I’m ready to talk about it.

Who Is This Phone For?

I think we should start there. Google’s Pixel line has always been for a certain type of person. If you rushed to buy it and you weren’t that kind of person, your experience from the start wasn’t going to be the best. In an industry where all the companies are always in a spec race and chasing to put even more in the hardware, Google has decided to go a different route. While they keep the hardware current enough that the device will function appropriately, Google has always been a software company at the heart. Google has decided to focus on its software chops and marry that with good hardware to create a smartphone experience that just works well. It tosses in a really great camera, and a few cool extra features to offer a phone to those who want an Android phone that just works, has a great camera, and always will receive have the latest and greatest Android OS guaranteed as soon as Google releases it.

Now if this is the kind of person you are, you should be heading into this experience with minimal complaints when using this phone. Yes, there are some things (which we’ll talk about) that Google could have done better, or some decisions you really wish they didn’t make. After using this phone for a while now as my primary device, I’m really quite happy with it. I do have one glaring annoyance which I’ll say flat out is the lack of support in apps for face unlock (I’m really annoyed on that one), but other than that I’ve had no issues using the phone as my primary device and will definitely keep using it for the foreseeable future!

What They Did Wrong

So let’s get the negatives out of the way! Speaking now as I’ve used this phone as my primary device since its unveiling back in October 2019, I only have one glaring annoyance with this phone. The other is a matter of what’s important to you kind of thing. The first and what I consider an ultimate fail is Google’s handling of Face Unlock. And I’m not talking the whole it can unlock even with your eyes closed thing, I mean using this on the daily with all of your apps that use biometrics for the way to securely unlock it.

Google should have done one of two things. One includes the fingerprinter sensor still in this one as a backup or two really enforced the use of the newer API that allows for face unlock in a developer’s app. While Google isn’t directly at fault here, the developer is the one that needs to include this newer API, Google really should have had better oversight and insuring this was done. It is literally March 2020 and I’m still dealing with a majority of the apps I used having to either use a pin code or pattern for unlocking since there is no Face Unlock support! Come on, guys!

Honestly, that is my biggest pain point with the Google Pixel 4 XL. The other is the lack of an ultra-wide camera. For me this isn’t a major issue, I don’t take a ton of ultra-wide pictures, and I do appreciate having the telephoto zoom less. This was probably more a misstep by Google and they should of just put it in. Word is that it is going to include that in the Pixel 5 so we’ll see. So your mileage on this may vary. If you just love ultra-wide mode on a camera, this is going to sting you. If you’ve never used it before anyway, you can’t miss what you’ve never had. Again this isn’t a true deal breaker but I get it.

Still A Lot To Love

Okay so while there were some missteps by Google, there is definitely a lot to love. Some of the features as I’ve been using the phone I even forgot about from the beginning but were reminded of recently. One of these features is Call Screen. This is one feature that works in the background and I actually forgot about it. But the times it has saved me has been many and funny thing is I didn’t even think about it. Call Screen Google introduced before and you now had the ability to hit a button that would screen the call before you answered it to see if it was worth it or maybe if it was spam. With Pixel 4, this takes it up a notch and you able to set it to do this automatically in the background. I have mine set to automatically screen the call if it is a possibly faked number, a first-time caller, or a private/hidden number. It will also decline robocalls. And if it is Spam it will just silently decline the call. This has saved me from looking at and/or answering tons of calls (think all those Chinese spam calls), and it is something I barely even think about as it works in the background. In comparison on my work iPhone 11, I very much have to stare at the phone and think do I want to answer this call as this is a repeating problem.

Being that Google is heavily focused on its software side of things, many of the great features are software ones. Another being a beefed-up Google assistance. Google Assistant in the Pixel 4 is turbo-charged and so much more responsive now. I use this on the daily and just how much quicker it is to my voice commands is in a word, wonderful! Other items like the Recorder app and even updates to the Google Pay app have been nice additions. But at last, this post is starting to become long and I don’t want to be TL:DR folks complaining haha.

Let’s Wrap This Up

When you take Google software chops and marry it to some pretty good hardware (yes not the top of the spec-heavy charts), you get a good primary phone. I still mad about the topping of the Face Unlock ball, but I still enjoy using the phone. They have taken what was good with the Pixel 3 (I still like that phone the best so far from the Pixel line) and made some decent improvements.

When it comes to the price, I think it would of made more sense to drop it back about $100. It would be good value at $699 for the Pixel 4 and $799 for the Pixel 4 XL. Do I recommend the Google Pixel 4 still after now using it for so long? Yes indeed, as long as you know what you want.